The Rise of (Historical Scholarship on Vietnam in) China

I recently gained access to a database of PhD dissertations and MA theses in China. Out of curiosity, I did a search for “越南” (Vietnam) and was amazed at what I found. . .

From what I have been able to determine, so far in this century there have been close to 100 PhD dissertations completed in China that deal with some aspect of Vietnamese history, with the majority having been completed in the last decade. The number of MA theses is also very large, and many of those have been completed in the past few years (indicating that this trend of scholarship on Vietnam getting produced in Vietnam is only going to increase).

As I browsed through the many dissertations – studies that covered everything from the ancient environment of Quảng Nam to, to institutional change in medieval Vietnam, to Chinese aid during the Vietnam War, to a comparative study of the writings of Lu Xun and Nam Cao – I wondered to myself: How many PhD dissertations on Vietnamese history have been produced in “the West” in the twenty first century? . . .


What is going on here? Globalization, for one. It is clear that these dissertations are increasingly being produced by Vietnamese who are studying in China, and Chinese who have studied in Vietnam. Such young scholars have mastery over at least two languages – Vietnamese and Chinese.

In “the West,” it’s a basic requirement for scholars who work on Vietnam to know Vietnamese, but few know Chinese, particularly those who focus on the modern period. Historians in Vietnam, meanwhile, are not required to learn Chinese either.

As I’ve said before, not-knowing Chinese limits what one can do and see when researching about Vietnamese history, and these dissertations make that blazingly clear. For instance, whereas Western scholars have basically only hinted at intellectual connections between China and Vietnam in the first half of the twentieth century (as if the French arrive and China suddenly disappears from the worldview of educated Vietnamese), there are several dissertations that have now been produced in China that document the various intellectual connections that persisted.

Then there are dissertations on Huế, on the painter Bùi Xuân Phái, on various topics in the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. . . the list goes on and on.

In the weeks ahead, I will try to go through some of these studies and share what I find. My initial impression, however, is to conclude by stating the obvious: globalization, the internationalization of higher education, and the transformations that the Digital Age have brought to the world of scholarship, are all game changers.


5 thoughts on “The Rise of (Historical Scholarship on Vietnam in) China

  1. How hard is it for someone who can read both Vietnamese and Chinese to read chữ nôm? I’d think that a modern Chinese speaker might have an advantage there, but perhaps the glyphs have changed too much to make a knowledge of the modern set useful?

    1. Thanks for the comment!! The people who have an “advantage” in reading Nom are Vietnamese speakers who learn classical Chinese, rather than Chinese speakers who learn Vietnamese.

      For instance, imagine in English if one were to read “That which we call a rowz,
      by any other naym would smell as sweet.” For a native speaker of English, it’s easy to guess what “rowz” (rose) and “naym” (name) are, but a non-native speaker would not find it as easy. Reading Nom is sort of like that.

      That said, I did notice a handful of dissertations on Nom and the history of Chinese character use in Vietnam and some were produced by Vietnamese.

  2. I presume the databank is “China Academic Journals Full-text Database” ( which, beside PhD dissertations and MA theses, also does press articles like “A Preliminary Study of Ming Dynasty Firearms” 明代前期有铭火铳初探 by Chéng Dōng 成东 in Cultural Relics, 1988 Issue 5, 文物 1988年 第5期 which I was later able to find in full at “”. This article showed the guns available throughout China and the guns produced by the Military Arsenal Bureau (兵仗局 -Binh Trượng Cục) run by Le (nee Ho) Nguyen Trung. When compared to 15th century guns belonging to Dai Viet military (from Sun’s on Chinese guns in Dai Viet), it is quite obvious that early Dai Viet guns were identical to the MAB guns, particularly the 15mm handgun firing the Divine Lance-arrow [神 槍箭 – thần thương tiễn). Since Yongle wouldn’t allow MAB products in southern China, the Divine Arrow was known as the Flying Lance (飛槍) by the Chinese in Giao-chi — which Chinese records note accounted for the majority of wounds in Giao-chi.

    There is a similar system for PhD dissertations and MA theses in Taiwan. I wonder if there are Vietnamese authors among them?

    1. Thanks for the comment and the reference to that article.
      The database I was using is connected to the one you mention, but is separate. Here is the info on it:

      Product Introduction
      English Name:
      China Masters’Theses Full-text Database (CMFD)
      Brief Introduction:
      China Masters’Theses Full-text Database is the most comprehensive and practical masters’theses full-text database in China, with the highest quality and the shorted publication cycle. It covers a wide range of subjects, such as fundamental science, engineering technology, agriculture, medical science, philosophy, humanity and social science, etc.By now, it has collected 3,514,151 excellent masters’ theses from 752 master degree grantors.
      It may display 504 error message if the file size is over 20MB in PDF download,CAJ download is highly recommended in this case.
      Complete coverage of theses from “985 Project” and “211 Project” universities, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences etc.
      Year Coverage:
      1984 onward
      Product Forms:
      Web, mirror sites, DVD-ROMs and flow accounting.
      Publication Frequency:
      1. Daily update: CNKI central servers and overseas mirror sites are daily updated, except for the public holidays.
      2. Monthly update: CNKI overseas mirror sites and DVD-ROMs are updated on the 10th of each month.
      China Academic Journals Electronic Publishing House Co., Ltd. Copyright Statement

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